Where the Culture Mom Has Been This Week – Sitting Shiva

I have been mysteriously absent from the blogosphere this week and want to take a chance to let you all know where I’ve been.  My father-in-law passed away and I dropped absolutely everything and ran to be with my husband and family in Manchester, England.  He has been like a surrogate father to me since I got married.  He had a unique and gentle spirit and was full of life.  At the age of 86, he suffered many ailments including Parkinson’s and kidney failure, which is what eventually took his life.  I knew that I had to be with my family during this difficult process.

My father-in-law had been ill for the last few years and I had a feeling that our last visit to the UK in June 2010 would be my last visit with him.  Fortunately, my husband’s work takes him to the UK regularly (he was actually there the week before his death, working in London) and he managed to spend quality time with his father regularly over the past year.  His health deteriorated much too fast over the past few months and while we were walking a tight rope, knowing that his life could get taken from us imminently, we had several incidents where his life was extended…. by miracles, no less.  We were lucky to have him as long as we did.  I got to talk to him via SKYPE and FaceTime (thank you, iPhone4) often which certainly made a difference being so far away.

When I got the call on Saturday morning that my loving father-in-law’s life was taken, my first immediate response was to cry.  And I did.  After that, I had to scramble together a group of friends who could take care of my children for a few days.  At ages 6 and 7, they don’t understand death.  They don’t really display the kind of compassion it would take to go into a situation that involves peace and understanding.  Plus, going to the UK is a big trip, and as much as they are used to taking the journey as we take it at least once a year, we decided to keep them in their normal routine here in the U.S.  Within three hours, I booked my flight to Manchester and created a schedule that I could trust, with friends rotating the care of both of them, sometimes together, sometimes apart.  By the time I managed to organize the keys, suitcases, school lunches, play dates, dance clothes, piano lessons, etc. it was time to drop them with friends and head to the airport.  I can honestly say that I was not worried about my kids while I was away.  I knew they’d be safe, as well as extremely happy with their arrangements.  Indeed, they were.  As a matter of fact, they were disappointed when I came home today.  My friends were good enough to take photos of them in various settings over the few days that I was away – in ice cream parlors, at bedtime, after dance class.  Nonetheless, I know they are glad to have me home and I will slowly be getting back into our routine.

It wasn’t an easy trip, but one that I will always be glad I made.  My father-in-law was quite an impressive man.  While I knew pieces of his history, what I knew hardly scratched the surface.  On the day of his funeral, nearly 200 people crammed into a small room that led into a cemetery to commemorate his life.  They came from near and far.  When I saw the box containing his body, my heart broke and it was agonizing to watch them bury it into the ground, knowing I would never hold his hands or look into his eyes again.  And while the gathering was quite thick that first day, the crowds never let up over the course of the week.  He was so respected, so revered, so loved.  I found out a number of pieces of information about him throughout the week, some I knew, some I didn’t.  Not only did he serve in the Royal Air Force as air crew, but he was a member of the local  Community Council and was Mayor of Trafford in the Queens Jubilee year of 1977 (my in-laws hosted a Garden Party for the King and Queen, I have the picture hanging in my dining room to prove it).   He was appointed as a Justice of the Peace; he was a school governor of several local schools; he was awarded a certificate by the Manchester Police Authority; he was active at his shul; the list goes on.  As the Rabbi graciously pointed out, he had the “education of life.”  He had to step into the family business and didn’t have the chance to go to university, but he certainly gave back to the community….and then some.

While his funeral was the perfect tribute to my father-in-law, so was the period of mourning that my family spent over the course of the week.  In Judaism, this period is called “shiva” (which means “seven” in Hebrew), where the immediate family spends seven days at home to mourn the death of a loved one.  It is meant to give the person who is grieving time to adjust to their loss.  During this time, my husband and his immediate family, did not wear leather shoes, put on perfume, shave, get a haircut, or bathe.  All mirrors in the house were covered (so mourners are not vain) and they sit on low stools on the floor.  It is customary for the mourners not to cook, so visitors brought food over all throughout the week.  From 2-4:30pm daily, they received visitors wanting to pay their respects.  Every night, prayer services were held at my sister-in-law’s home so that mourners could recite the Mourner’s Kaddish together.  The number of people who showed up during the day, and at night, were a testament to the fact that so many people adored him.  I feel a sense of honor to have known this tremendous man for a third of my life.

Tonight I spent some time looking over photographs from over the years of the special times that I shared with my husband’s father.  Though I am not sure my daughter truly understands what has happened to her beloved grandfather, nor I am sure that her memories of him will last forever, I do know that he had a great impact on her life, my life, and on so many other lives.  My son, who is younger, is somehow seemingly more aware and interested to

My husband is still in Manchester completing the rules of the Shiva period.  I had to rush back to care for the children.  My heart is still in Manchester and I have to let the healing begin.

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  1. I first saw this post on my phone but wanted to comment once I was sitting down in front of my computer. I just want you to know how terribly sorry I am for your loss. This was such a beautiful and moving tribute to your father in law. It’s wonderful to go through the pictures and think about all the special memories. I am sure your children may not remember everything, but the more you show them and talk about him, those memories will be kept alive in their hearts for a long time to come.

    May you and your family find peace and comfort during this time. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  2. I am so so sorry for your loss. This is a very touching post and I have a vision of him just from your words. I also really appreciate your describing Shiva to me. A few years ago, right after my son was born, my Jewish boss lost both his mother and father in a 3 week time frame and I was on the fence about what to do. Would I, a Catholic, be welcome in the home to pay respects (more for him and his wife)? And I had NO idea what it would look and feel like. I’m used to sending flowers and bringing food and ultimately, I skipped it and sent a card and felt bad that I didn’t do more.

    I do love how after someone passes, the amazing number of people you see and stories you hear and how quickly you realize you only knew one part of someone. I still feel like that years after my grandfathers passed. And the heavy heart when you see how many people, how many lives he touched…but I think those of left behind need that to grieve and heal.

    And I think you’ll be surprised with your daughter…I remember tons from when I was her age and they are some of the sweetest memories.

    Lots of prayers sent to you and your family.


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